Canadian Wind Energy Association

To 35% and Beyond? Why Canada’s Grid Should Go Big on Wind

While high-quality wind resources exist across Canada, the clean energy source is underused. Wind energy accounts for about 5% of Canada’s current electricity supply. A major new study shows the economic and environmental benefits of significantly boosting that number.

Canada can get more than one-third of its electricity from wind energy without compromising grid reliability, while reducing emissions and generating new export opportunities, according to the Pan-Canadian Wind Integration Study (PCWIS). The study, released July 6 by the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA), was conducted by GE’s Energy Consulting business.

“It’s a ground-breaking study,” says Robert Hornung, president of CanWEA, noting a system-level evaluation of wind power integration has not previously been completed in Canada. The study considers four scenarios in which wind energy supplies between 5% and 35% of the forecast system load, and concludes 20% and 35% wind penetrations can be achieved reliably and efficiently by 2025. The 35% wind penetration was the highest wind penetration scenario considered in the study, but is not necessarily the upper limit on reliable wind penetration in Canada.

Energy Consulting’s (EC) Bahman Daryanian is the study’s technical director and project manager. Daryanian and an EC team of renewables integration experts partnered with four companies with specialized expertise: Vaisala, Electranix, EnerNex, and Knight Piésold, as well as a technical advisory committee of system operators. “It’s been a very cooperative and collaborative process,” Daryanian says of the nearly three-year long project.

Using power grid data from system operators and utilities, the PCWIS analyzed how to integrate large amounts of wind energy on Canada’s provincially run electricity grid, and identified potential challenges and opportunities. Power flows across the border were also considered. The study was co-funded by CanWEA and Natural Resources Canada, through the ecoEnergy Innovation Initiative.

Hornung describes the study’s findings as a “good news story” for Canada. “Not only can you integrate much higher levels of wind than one might previously assume, but it brings along environmental benefits and also economic benefits,” he says.

The completed study is timely; its release follows the recent announcement by the leaders of Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. to achieve 50% clean power generation across North America by 2025. While wind power has been the largest source of new electricity generation in Canada over the past five years, this study helps answer long-standing industry questions about how to successfully integrate more wind into the Canadian grid, enabling provincial governments across Canada to expand commitments to reduce greenhouse gases.

Wind energy can and should play a significant role in addressing climate change, Hornung says. As more wind is added to the Canadian grid, the study shows, conventional generation relying on fossil fuels is displaced and emissions are reduced. At 35% wind penetration, the study found, Canada could see more than 32 million metric tons of CO2 reduction.

Economic benefits are plentiful, too, as operational savings and export potential offset capital costs. The estimated cost of new transmission tie-lines between provinces and between Canada and the U.S. could be recovered within a few years, the study found. “Because of the export to the U.S., there is a huge positive in terms of increased revenue for Canada,” Daryanian says. The study also highlights other complimentary possibilities, including combining wind generation with hydro generation.

Work is now underway to develop a website for the project, Daryanian says, making wind data in the report available to other policy makers and researchers. In the meantime, the study is already making an impact. At the June meeting between leaders of Canada, Mexico and the U.S., an agreement was made to conduct a joint study on adding more renewables to the North American power grid. “That would not be possible if this study had not been completed,” Hornung says. “This study is a high quality piece of work that will help inform decision making and future research in many different jurisdictions.”

Check out findings from the full report on the CanWEA website.

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